Belfast Telegraph

Phew! No more mud, blood, sweat and tears

By Frances Burscough

My younger son (who's in Upper Sixth) played his last rugby match for the school this week. Finally, after more than a decade of mud, blood, sweat and tears it's all over and I can breath a sigh of relief at last.

I wanted to support him and I duly did, to beyond the call of duty for twelve rumbustious years. But every time he put his mouth guard in his mouth, my heart was in mine.

If there's a more brutal and risky team game than this, I've never seen it. In fact, I actually stopped watching him play after the first few matches because I couldn't stand seeing the tackles and had to restrain myself from marching onto the field and knocking the block off anyone who so much as bumped into him.

Also, there was a slight language problem. Mine.

As soon as he got the ball I became overwhelmed with a Tourettes-style compulsion to swear like a trooper, very loudly, for all to hear while all the other (highly respectable) parents looked on, mouths agog, in horror. In short, for eighty minutes (plus added time) I became the ultimate mortifying mum. It may have been a game of two halves but I was equally embarrassing in both.

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not violent or unhinged (honest!) but for a mother to willingly send her youngest son out onto that pitch battle that is competitive rugby goes completely against the laws of human nature. And before anyone mentions "apron strings" here's my explanation. Heck, you spend every moment of your life - and theirs - doing everything you can to keep them from harm's way until they are old enough to protect and fend for themselves. As a mother, it's your raison d'être. As a single mother, it's double that.

And yet you send them to a posh school and suddenly you're expected (nay, encouraged) to gladly escort him past the waiting ambulance and team of paramedics ominously waiting on stand-by in the school car park, into the snarling jaws of death they call the Northern Ireland Rugby Schools Cup? And then stand there and cheer politely whilst a brute from darkest South Down tries to pull your son's head off his shoulders? Are they mad?

So as far as the pitch side was concerned, I chose to be a conscientious objector. Of course I did all that was required of me. I supported the effort in every way I could. I encouraged and consoled him. I drove him back and forth to a thousand games as well as countless pre-school and post school training sessions. I scraped a tonne of caked mud off his kit, pre-washed and laundered them hundreds of times. I scrubbed his boots of all the mire and went through more bottles of Febreze than I can remember. I always had a packet of Ibuprofen, a fully-stocked first aid kit and a bag of frozen peas on stand-by for any number of minor inflammations and swollen joints. I gritted my teeth to stop the tears (mine) when he appeared off the bus limping, or hobbling or sporting a glowering black eye or a bloody nose. And when he broke his arm and sprained his wrist and fractured his thumb and gashed his knee I duly sped him immediately to A&E to be stitched up and fixed up and ready for the next fixture.

But now, as he approaches the final term of his final year at school and the rugby season comes to an end, I can relax. He survived every match and I survived him playing them too. Just.

Now all I have to worry about is his A Levels and, if all goes according to plan, him leaving home to go to university in London. After dicing with death for twelve years that should be a doddle.

Post script: "Great news, mum!" he just said.

"There's a rugby team at the college I've applied to!"


Belfast Telegraph


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